Neighborhood Watchers

Back when we were 13, we went to the Bi-Mart with a couple of buddies to get some model-rocket supplies. We quickly found a giant battery, and carried it around the store while we looked for other things. But we didn’t find them, so we returned the battery to its display and walked out the store.

We’re fifteen or twenty yards out the door, when we hear a stern voice behind us: “Are you going to pay for that battery?”

Store Dick. Or maybe just a manager. Whoever he was, he had been watching three kids wander around the store and leave without purchasing anything. Case closed.

We were, shall we say, Righteously Incensed: “I put it back,” we said, in the most affronted 13-year-old voice we could muster.

Store Dick didn’t believe us. But since Store Dick couldn’t strip-search us out in the parking lot, he let us go, knowing we had slipped one past him.

It’s forty years later. We’re still pissed.

Then there was the time we were a college freshman, walking up 13th toward campus one evening. There are a couple of girls walking ahead. We suddenly realize that they’re cheating looks back at us. Not, alas, because we’re Irresistably Cute, but because it’s evening, we’re a lone male, we’re 6-2, and we’re following too close.

We didn’t blame them for that. We just weren’t aware before that moment that we might be regarded by young women as a Dangerous Stranger. We learned to keep an Acceptable Distance after that.

We’ve lived a long, satisfying, AARP-qualified life. And looking back on that life, those are the only two moments we can recall where we were the target of a Snap Judgment because of our Suspicious Presence — for being who we are.

Oh, and one more thing: We’re white.

Corey Dade isn’t:

Trayvon Martin’s killing has had an especially chilling effect on black parents who see their sons as no different from the 17-year-old Martin, who was cut down while walking through a gated community. It has reinforced their fear that at any moment, in any environment, their boys could be viewed with suspicion — suddenly the target of a wary neighbor or shop owner or overzealous police officer.

I am a black man. This is one of the realities I have lived. My parents prepared me for it.

To be sure, my parents taught me to transcend matters of race, interrogate them when necessary, and even ignore them where possible. However, they also gave me “The Talk.”

For other boys coming of age, parents may end “The Talk” after a lecture about sex, drugs, alcohol or Internet porn. The rite for black boys often is more rigorous: We’re also drilled on a set of rules designed to protect us against suspicions too often associated with the color of our skin.

Among the Rules:

  • Never Leave A Store Without A Shopping Bag
  • Never Loiter Outside, Anywhere
  • Never Go Anywhere Alone
  • Never Talk Back To Police… And Never, Ever Reach Into Your Pocket
  • Never Doubt Trouble May Strike Anytime, Anywhere

This is, to say the least, Beyond Our Experience. We’re a Nice White Boy from a Nice White Town. We’ve heard of DWB, but we had no idea how thoroughly our fellow citizens needed to adjust their public behavior — or that the adjustments were so typical that they could be codified.

There’s a recent South Park episode where Stan tries to understand Token — the black kid — and Token resists Stan’s attempts. You don’t understand what it’s like, Token tells Stan. You can’t.

We’re having one of those moments.

Florida Teen’s Killing: A Parent’s Greatest Fear [NPR]

Remember the phrase, “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”?

While many people were put off by that audacious POV back then, some of them have Trayvon Martin’s death to serve as a reminder that, yes, they really don’t understand.

The timing of Mad Men never seems to amaze me. When Juan McCain look alike Betty’s dad going all nutsy at the very time folks were questioning the very Juan McCain’s sanity. Now the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle of black folks (among others) to fight for their rights.

this makes me weep. I’m an old white woman now, but ever since I was a little girl, my heart has bled for what black people must endure.

my grandfather gave me “the talk” about being Jewish in this world. and if i ignored him then, living in Israel sealed his words. i look white, so it confuses the anti-semites, but i’ve had my share of senseless hate in my life.
my heart bleeding was always reserved for what the gays had to endure.
we shall overcome, silly wacist wabbits.

I’m glad to live in a place where my family and I are treated like human beings.

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